I don’t like America. I used to, up until the day I caught myself chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! I was only 10 and even then critically wondered why I was doing that so passionately.
After all, I had never been to the US and the only reason was I was chanting it was because wrestling was on. Hacksaw Jim Duggan, wielding a 2×4 plank of wood was on the TV doing it.
I have since been critical of anything American because the US of A enjoys an absurd level of blind acceptance globally, on account of their soft power. American soft power is the reason Christmas is associated more with Santa Claus bringing coca cola than with Jesus bringing salvation.
This power was underlined when America and her allies won the Second World War and has since then enveloped the globe with American culture. This naturally includes cars but none more significant than the Jeep.
After WW1 the US Army decided to develop a quarter tonne military vehicle that would replace the horse on the battlefield. Of three companies shortlisted, the Willys concept was chosen as the next military vehicle and production expedited just as WW2 started.
The brief was to essentially make the Swiss army knife of cars, a military vehicle that could easily be modified into a personnel carrier, ambulance, radio car and anything the army thought of, including a mobile anti-aircraft machine gun unit.
There are conflicting stories on the history of the name Jeep as the first vehicles were a combined effort of three companies, including Ford, who are credited with developing the iconic Jeep face.
Ford’s nine vertical slot design was then reworked and trademarked as a seven slot design that was later “borrowed” by the likes of the Hummer H1 and first gen Suzuki Jimny.
Enter the war and the little Jeep won the hearts of the world and terrified the Germans. It was scattered into every battlefield from Africa, Asia, Europe and everywhere in between.
Its light weight, powerful engine and bucket seats essentially made it into a sports car, even earning a dig from Enzo Ferrari as the best sports car America ever made. It also earned praise from a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who wrote “It does everything. It goes everywhere.
It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and as agile as a goat. It constantly carries twice what it was designed for, and still keeps on going.” In total almost 400,000 jeeps saw active duty, cementing it in history as a reliable go anywhere do it all icon.
When the war ended the Willys company trademarked the name and started production of civilian versions in 1945, effectively making the world’s first production 4X4.
Furthermore, because the war had just ended and the world inundated with love and positivity, Willys allowed companies to borrow inspiration from the Jeep and borrow they did. It was at this time the legend that is Land Rover was born.
As were the Toyota BJ and FJ SUVs and a host of others inspired by the little warrior. Mahindra, having secured the rights to make Jeeps still makes the uncannily similar Thar.
Underpinned by the proven military pedigree, the star of the war swapped military fatigues for jeans and a T-shirt in the CJ series, otherwise known as Civilian Jeep.
Hollywood embraced the CJ and it would make constant, if brief, cameo appearances in Hollywood and global films. It was at this time that, still heavily under the influence of American soft power, I would refer to every SUV as a Jeep to the constant ire of friends and family. If I’d had had money, ten year old me would have bought one immediately.
The CJ series was replaced by the Wranger which continues production to date. It carries the DNA of the Jeep brand and the resemblance with the original battlefield brawler is uncanny. Although it must be said the current Wrangler seems to subsist exclusively on a diet of burgers and fries while the original made do with army rations.
Today, the picky eater I’ve evolved into couldn’t care less about American food and the writer in me is constantly shouting at my computer when it defaults to American English.
The car enthusiast in me gets angry when Kenyans, who have never left the border, refer to pick-ups and lorries as trucks and distances in miles! I still think very little of America and being a very black man, I’ve never had the inclination to get shot, so never want to go there.
All their cars have the steering on the wrong side and are built for bulky Americans, but, as much as I hate to admit it, if I had the coin, I’d still have me a Jeep. In a world where everyone now makes an SUV, it doesn’t get more original than that.